Consumer committee under attack at State Capitol



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Another last-minute, heated debate is over a group that protects Utah consumers. The bill, according to critics, would muzzle the public utility watchdogs.

Virtually everyone in Utah uses electricity and natural gas, so bills regulating utilities are often hard fought. This year, that's no exception.

Senate Bill 214 would make the Committee of Consumer Services, which represents the interest of consumers and small business owners, an advisory group. Lawmakers supporting the bill say it will be good for consumers; consumer advocates disagree.

"Committee on Consumer Service has a wide range of responsibilities, not just to low-income ratepayers and such, but it's much broader than that. I think that's been some of the challenge and why we've requested legislative audits over the years," said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

"This has probably been one of the most successful agencies in saving customers money, and I don't think at this time we can afford this. My statement is: If isn't broke, don't break it," said consumer advocate Claire Geddes.

Advocates consider the bill an attempt to silence consumers and make it easier for utilities to raise rates. Lawmakers behind the bill say it simply follows recommendations by the state's auditor general.

The bill passed the Senate 21-8 on party lines and now goes to the House. No word on whether the governor plans to sign it.

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Story compiled with contributions from John Daley and Paul McHardy.

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